09 November, 2011

Argue With the Voices in Your Head

Writers' Wednesday!!!

Remember all those news stories where people defended their atrocities by claiming the voices in their head compelled them to commit such acts?  Kinda doesn't make it better, right?

Ever hear yourself, or another writer you know, say that the characters tell you/them the story?  That you/they just go along for the ride and see where they take you?  Kinda doesn't make it better, right?

Characters have lives.  Like real people.  And.  Just like real people.  Most of their life is not as interesting as they think it is.  If you let your character tell you the story, start feeling around for the cool spot under your pillow.

Being a writer is not (or should I say, "shouldn't be") the same as being a cab driver.  It's more like being a tour guide.  For truly compelling writing, it's like being a tour guide where the characters don't really know what they signed up for and probably wouldn't have signed up had they known.  Imagine getting into a cab, telling the driver where you want to go, the driver speeding off, driving like a complete lunatic in the opposite direction, getting into a barely survivable accident, discovering things about yourself you never knew, and giving the driver a good tip for the experience.

Don't let the voices in your head tell their own story.  Fight them on it.  Challenge them.  Make them convince you that doing what they originally wanted is the right way to go.  Something like this:

You:  Don't go up the stairs.  It's overplayed and makes you look ridiculous.
Protagonist:  I have to go up the stairs.
You:  No you don't.  Call the cops.  Go to a neighbors for help.  Anything that hasn't been done a million times.
Protagonist:  But, my kids are up there.  No one will believe a mother left her kids upstairs with a monster.
You:  Good point.  But, we don't know the monster is up there.
Protagonist:  I heard him.  Even if it wasn't him, I just want to see my babies and make sure they're all right.
You:  Fine.  Go upstairs.  But you're turning on a light.  None of this fumbling around in the dark crap.
Protagonist:  If I turn on a light where I am, I won't be able to see into the dark areas of the house and I'll give up my position.  I have a better chance of seeing my kids or the monster first if I keep it dark.
You:  That's why they always turn off the lights?  Well, fine.  But you're going to have to explain that to the readers because it sounds cliche and psychotic.  Especially because we don't even know the monster is up there.  You're probably going to just scare your kids.
Protagonist:  I can feel him up there.  I'm going.
You:  Hey, monster!  Are you up there?
Monster:  We don't know yet.
You:  Ha!  You answered.  You are up there.
Monster:  Well played.  lol.  (someday I'm going to dedicate a whole blog post to the misuse of 'lol' and other acronyms.)

Okay.  So.  Arguing with your characters can help you solidify your story and make it more interesting than just "channeling" their spirits.  It can also help you skip over the boring non-essential details and focus on the good stuff.  Don't let them coast through their life on easy street.  Check out my blog post on conflict for more on that.

Now... how to get psychos to stop going along with the voices in their head...

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